1989-1999 FROM DARKNESS INTO LIGHT?
Eddie's barmy-army, Blakey and BurrowsThe 1989-90 season began in a way that the Club had recently become accustomed to, with players having to be sold to balance the books.
Terry Boyle, Nicky Platnauer, Paul Wimbleton and Ian Walsh all left the club, while Chris Pike finally joined from Fulham on a free transfer. After two defeats in the opening two games, Frank Burrows accepted an offer to become assistant to John Gregory at Portsmouth.
Chairman Clemo turned to Len Ashurst who came back for a second spell at Ninian Park. He brought in Cohen Griffith from Kettering, and 'keeper Gavin Ward, but could do nothing when Portsmouth came in with a £215,000 bid for striker Jimmy Gilligan which was immediately accepted. A miserable year with eight home defeats eventually ended in relegation back to Division Four. Ashurst lasted one more season of football in the basement before tendering his resignation.
It was at this time that Rick Wright was unveiled as the financial benefactor who had wiped out much of City's debts. With young Welsh players such as Jason Perry, Damon Searle and Nathan Blake making their way into the side, the future began to look a little brighter. Wright became financial controller the following season and immediately began giving Ninian Park a long overdue facelift. He also introduced a number of innovative schemes which were good for the wellbeing of the club.
Eddie May was installed as Club coach in full control of team affairs and was given the cash to bring in a number of experienced players including Carl Dale from Chester and Paul Ramsey from Leicester City. Ramsey was made club captain and May set about the task of reviving City's fortunes. Derek Brazil joined the club from Manchester United after having a loan spell at Swansea, and although it was an average season in the league, the Club won the Welsh Cup with victory over Hednesford Town at the National Stadium in front of 10,300 fans.
Austrian side Admira Wacker came to Ninian Park for the first leg of the Cup Winners' Cup; they were coached by Siggi Held who played for Germany in the 1966 World Cup Final against England in 1966. The Austrians were technically superior and a 1-1 draw in the home leg was followed by a 2-0 defeat in Vienna. Robbie James was unable to play in the first leg as it was discovered at a late stage that he was banned after receiving two cautions when playing for Swansea City against Panathinaikos in 1989.
1992-93 was the season all City's fans had been waiting for as the Club deservedly secured the Division Three championship. They also won the Welsh Cup for the second year running, this time beating Rhyl 5-0 thanks to a hat-trick from Phil Stant.
Rick Wright had signed Kevin Ratcliffe, and his experience proved invaluable as City at last moved out of the bottom division. Standard Liege were to be the last opponents for Cardiff in Europe, and although Tony Bird put City ahead just after half time in the away leg, the Belgians stormed back to win 5-2. A Robbie James goal was all City had to show at Ninian Park as Arie Haan's team comfortably won 3-1.
Kevin Ratcliffesigns for City, pictured here withEddie May
But all was not going well at Ninian Park after this promotion-winning season. No season tickets were put on sale with Wright claiming that he did not want to continue at the helm. He also had a public row with City favourite Stant that was only resolved when fan power brought about Stant's return from a loan spell at Mansfield Town.
Players became restless and Ramsey and Ratcliffe were among those who left the Club. City's only light relief came in an F.A. Cup run that saw them defeat Manchester City 1-0 in a game that was televised. Nathan Blake scored a superb goal that would ultimately lead to his departure from the Club, and Mark Grew also played a significant part in the win by saving a Keith Curle penalty.
Blake was sold to Sheffield United in the week that Cardiff played Luton Town in the next round of the cup; Luton meanwhile, included teenage striker John Hartson in their line-up and a disputed goal gave the Hatters a 2-1 win.
Nathan Blakescores the winner against Manchester City, 1994
Yet again, City dropped back into the fourth tier and while Wright was attempting to sell the Club to a consortium led by Jim Cadman, Terry Yorath was brought in by the prospective buyers to manage the Club.
When that bid failed, back came Eddie May for a short period before Samesh Kumar agreed a deal with Wright and took over as chairman of Cardiff City. He appointed Kenny Hibbitt as manager but it was not long before Hibbitt was moved to Director of Football and former Liverpool and England full back Phil Neal joined the Club as manager.
In Neal's first season in charge City finished third from bottom of Division Four, with only Torquay United and Scarborough beneath them. They won just eleven matches and scored forty-one goals in their forty-six games during the season. Neal left Cardiff under a cloud to join Steve Coppell in an abortive attempt to change Manchester City's fortunes. Hibbitt returned as manager to be assisted by Russell Osman, who had ended his career at Ninian Park as a non-contract player.
City suddenly found some form and with veteran Steve White leading the line, new signing Jeff Eckhardt solid in defence, and young striker Simon Haworth beginning to show his ability, the Bluebirds made it to the Division Four Play-Offs. Northampton Town won 1-0 at Ninian Park in front of 11,369 fans and 3-2 in the home leg to go through to Wembley where they beat Swansea City. Yet again, inconsistency proved to be City's downfall and the following season Cardiff ended up fourth from bottom.
Before this happened there was another managerial change when Osman was relieved of his duties and Hibbitt once again took over the mantle of guiding City's fortunes. Kumar decided it was time for yet another change at the top though, and Frank Burrows left a coaching job at Premier League West Ham United to come back to the Club he had left in 1989.
Burrows proved that he had lost none of his mastery of wheeling-and-dealing in the transfer market as he set about rekindling a Club crying out for a little success. He was able to bring in new faces such as Richard Carpenter, Mark Bonner and Mark Delaney, the latter having signed from League of Wales side Carmarthen Town. They joined an experienced squad that included Jon Hallworth, Kevin Nugent and the promising Jason Fowler.
Delaney became the third City player to be transferred to Aston Villa when he moved ahead of the March transfer deadline, but Burrows improved his squad further by signing Andy Legg and Jason Bowen from Reading, together with former Spurs midfielder, Danny Hill.
The 1998-99 season finally brought an end to basement-tier football, with City scraping into an automatic promotion spot after one time looking like champions.
Kumar resigned as Chairman at the end of the season and long-time City fan and director Steve Borley took over his duties to lead an enthusiastic board of directors. Unfortunately, the Club were unable to hang on to their Division 2 status, suffering relegation at Gillingham in the penultimate game of the season. That said, things were about to change like never before at Ninian Park.
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